IT Talent Retention Myths: Projects Don't Rule - InformationWeek
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Chris Murphy
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IT Talent Retention Myths: Projects Don't Rule

InformationWeek's annual IT Salary Survey reveals surprises about how much IT pros value leading-edge tech projects, great bosses, and prestigious employers.

Conventional wisdom holds that a surefire way to keep IT pros happy is to put them on cutting-edge projects.

That conventional wisdom collides with reality, found in our annual InformationWeek US Salary Survey (registration required). We asked (among other things) which of 24 job factors are most important to IT professionals. And there at a lowly 16th most cited by staff and 17th by managers is "work with leading-edge technology," cited by about 1 in 5 of the 11,662 IT staffers and managers in our survey.

We also asked about the importance of "creating new innovative IT solutions." And because we ask IT pros to pick only their seven most important factors, you could argue that we're splitting the "innovator" vote, and that one catch-all category on emerging technology and innovation would show a greater hunger for those things at work.

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What I suspect is more true is that a segment of IT pros craves the excitement of new and constantly changing technology, but many more embrace the tried and true. Most like the feel of expertise and mastery more than the rush of uncertainty and experimentation.

So what matters most to you about your job? Looking at the responses to the 24 "what matters most" factors in our survey, the data as it applies to staffers falls into three broad tiers:

The package
The factors cited most by IT staffers in the survey fall into what I refer to as the "package" -- pay, benefits, vacation, flexible work schedule, and stable company. These are the cover-your-nut and have-a-life factors, so some of them will factor into nearly every IT pro's job priorities.

(Source: Wikipedia)
(Source: Wikipedia)

Companies must make sure they take care of these baseline factors, or they aren't even in the game of competing for talent. By far, the most common reason an IT staffer is looking to change jobs is for a higher salary -- cited by 72% of job seekers in our survey, far head of the next highest factor, more interesting work, at 49%.

The intangibles
In the middle come the intangibles, the hardest factors for IT leaders to address, since they're different for every IT pro. "Working on leading-edge tech" lands in here, as do "working with highly talented peers," "challenge of the job," "telecommuting options," and "commute distance."

These factors can be deal breakers for any given IT pro, but they aren't across-the-board important, like pay, bennies, and vacation are. As they recruit and assign IT staffers, IT leaders must figure out if they're matching a person's interests to the factors the job delivers.

The overrated
Most of us would guess that at least three of the following four factors are important to IT pros, when they actually land at the very bottom of our survey ranking: "effectiveness of immediate supervisor," "bonus opportunities," "involvement in setting company strategy and goals," and "prestige of the company."

Do these findings surprise you? Two jump out at me. One is that the supervisor isn't that important. We all know someone who has fled a terrible boss or followed a great one to a new company. But most supervisors are somewhere safely in the middle. One way to look at the unimportance given to supervisors is that they can screw things up and send people fleeing for the exits, but they don't have to be amazing to attract most IT pros.

The lowest-ranked factor that surprises me is also one that's essential knowledge for all those hugely successfully but hardly glamorous companies out there wondering if they can ever compete for top IT talent against the Googles and Microsofts of the world. Only 6% of IT pros say that "prestige of the company" is among their top factors for a job. This data says pretty definitively to those companies: Yes, you can compete for top talent.

Just remember to bring your checkbook.

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Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in ... View Full Bio
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IW Pick
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2014 | 8:13:02 AM
I'm not all that surprised
The biggest surprise for me was that the capabilities for a manager is not important since I've had horrible bosses in the past and left jobs because I wasn't compensated enough to deal with that.  On the other hand I'm not at all surprised that  "bonus opportunities," "involvement in setting company strategy and goals," are not important because for me it either means more work with no guarantee that it will be worth my time and if it is part of my role to set company strategy and goals then it is just part of my job not an added benefit.  The issue of a prestigious company I can understand too because I have worked for both large and very visible companies and small companies, very little changes except that the average person recognizes the company you work for when it comes up in conversation.
IW Pick
User Rank: Ninja
5/22/2014 | 6:37:17 PM
Not too Surprising
After the excitment of college fades, the reality of paying off the student loans, the car and the mortgage set in. Soon enough, providing for the little "microprogrammers" will become the main concern in the lives of most people. What you aptly describe as the package becomes a lot more important than any pie-in-the sky, and most will take well-earned satisfaction in exercising their hard-won skills in overcoming the challenges involved in keeping the digital world reliably turning. It's a big part of growing up.
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